David Ray Griffin
Information Clearing House
Thursday, July 8, 2010
An Open Letter to Terry Allen, Noam Chomsky, Alexander Cockburn, David Corn, Chris Hayes, George Monbiot, Matthew Rothschild, and Matt Taibbi.1
July 07, 2010 “GR” — According to several left-leaning critics of the 9/11 Truth Movement, some of its central claims, especially about the destruction of the World Trade Center, show its members to be scientifically challenged. In the opinion of some of these critics, moreover, claims made by members of this movement are sometimes unscientific in the strongest possible sense, implying an acceptance of magic and miracles.
After documenting this charge in Part I of this essay, I show in Part II that the exact opposite is the case: that the official account of the destruction of the World Trade Center implies miracles (I give nine examples), and that the 9/11 Truth Movement, in developing an alternative hypothesis, has done so in line with the assumption that the laws of nature did not take a holiday on 9/11. In Part III, I ask these left-leaning critics some questions evoked by the fact that it is they, not members of the 9/11 Truth Movement, who have endorsed a conspiracy theory replete with miracle stories as well as other absurdities.
I* The Charge that 9/11 Truth Theories Rest on Unscientific, Even Magical, Beliefs
Several left-leaning critics of the 9/11 Truth Movement, besides showing contempt for its members, charge them with relying on claims that are contradicted by good science and, in some cases, reflect a belief in magic. By “magic,” they mean miracles, understood as violations of basic principles of the physical sciences.
For example, Alexander Cockburn, who has referred to members of the 9/11 Truth Movement as “9/11 conspiracy nuts,”3 quoted with approval a philosopher who, speaking of “the 9-11 conspiracy cult,” said that its “main engine . . . is . . . the death of any conception of evidence,” resulting in “the ascendancy of magic over common sense, let alone reason.”4 Also, Cockburn assured his readers: “The conspiracy theory that the World Trade Centre towers were demolished by explosive charges previously placed within them is probably impossible.”5 With regard to Building 7 of the World Trade Center, Cockburn claimed (in 2006) that the (2002) report by FEMA was “more than adequate.”6
Likewise, George Monbiot, referring to members of the 9/11 Truth Movement as “fantasists,” “conspiracy idiots,” and “morons,” charged that they “believe that [the Bush regime] is capable of magic.”7
Matt Taibbi, saying that the “9/11 conspiracy theory is so shamefully stupid” and referring to its members as “idiots,” wrote with contempt about the “alleged scientific impossibilities” in the official account of 9/11; about the claim that “the towers couldn’t have fallen the way they did [without the aid of explosives]”; of the view (held by “9/11 Truthers”) that “it isn’t the plane crashes that topple the buildings, but bombs planted in the Towers that do the trick”; and of “the supposed anomalies of physics involved with the collapse of WTC-7.” He had been assured by “scientist friends,” he added, that “[a]ll of the 9/11 science claims” are “rank steaming bullshit.”8
Chris Hayes, writing in The Nation in 2006, did not stoop to the kind of name-calling employed by Cockburn, Monbiot, and Taibbi. Also, he knew, he admitted, of “eyewitness accounts of [people] who heard explosions in the World Trade Center.” And he was aware that “jet fuel burns at 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit [whereas] steel melts at 2,500.” He asserted, nevertheless, that “the evidence shows [a 9/11 conspiracy] to be virtually impossible,” so that the 9/11 Truth Movement’s conspiracy theory is “wrongheaded and a terrible waste of time.”9
Noam Chomsky has also declared that the available facts, when approached scientifically, refute the 9/11 Truth Movement. Speaking of evidence provided by this movement to show that 9/11 “was planned by the Bush Administration,” Chomsky declared: “If you look at the evidence, anybody who knows anything about the sciences would instantly discount that evidence.”10 In spite of his dismissive attitude, however, Chomsky in 2006 gave some helpful advice to people who believe they have physical evidence refuting the official account:
“There are ways to assess that: submit it to specialists . . . who have the requisite background in civil-mechanical engineering, materials science, building construction, etc., for review and analysis. . . . Or, . . . submit it to a serious journal for peer review and publication. To my knowledge, there isn’t a single submission.”11
In These Times writer Terry Allen, in a 2006 essay entitled “The 9/11 Faith Movement,” assured her readers that “the facts [do not] support the conspiracists’ key charge that World Trade Center buildings were destroyed by pre-positioned explosives.”12
In an essay posted at AlterNet a few months after 9/11, David Corn used a purely a priori argument to demonstrate – at least to his own satisfaction – that 9/11 could not have been an inside job: “U.S. officials would [not have been] . . . good [capable] enough, evil enough, or gutsy enough.”13 In 2009, after having been silent about 9/11 for the intervening years, he addressed the issue again. Referring to “9/11 conspiracy silliness,” “9/11 conspiracy poison,” and “9/11 fabulists,” Corn declared:
“The 9/11 conspiracy . . . was always a load of bunk. You don’t have to be an expert on skyscraper engineering . . . to know that [this theory] make[s] no sense.”14
Corn thereby implied that, whereas anyone can know that the 9/11 Truth Movement’s conspiracy theory is false, those people who are “expert[s] on skyscraper engineering” would have even more certain knowledge of this fact.
As to how people (such as himself) who are not experts on such matters could know this movement’s conspiracy theory to be “a load of bunk,” Corn again employed his three-point a priori argument, as re-worded in a later essay, according to which the Bush administration was “not that evil,” “not that ballsy,” and “not that competent.”15 Corn even referred to his three-point argument as “a tutorial that should persuade anyone that the 9/11 theory makes no sense.” Although this “tutorial” does not, of course, convince members of the 9/11 Truth Movement, Corn explained this fact by saying: “I have learned from experience that people who believe this stuff are not open to persuasion.”16
In any case, although his argument against the inside-job theory was almost entirely a priori, he did make the above-mentioned suggestion that one’s a priori certitude would be reinforced by people, such as “expert[s] on skyscraper engineering,” who have relevant types of expertise to evaluate the empirical evidence.
A fuller statement of the general claim made by these authors – that the 9/11 Truth Movement is based on unscientific claims – was formulated by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive. In an essay entitled “Enough of the 9/11 Conspiracy Theories Already,” Rothschild wrote:
“Here’s what the conspiracists believe: 9/11 was an inside job. . . . [T]he Twin Towers fell not because of the impact of the airplanes and the ensuing fires but because [of] explosives. Building 7, another high-rise at the World Trade Center that fell on 9/11, also came down by planted explosives. . . . I’m amazed at how many people give credence to these theories. . . . [S]ome of the best engineers in the country have studied these questions and come up with perfectly logical, scientific explanations for what happened. . . . At bottom, the 9/11 conspiracy theories are profoundly irrational and unscientific. It is more than passing strange that progressives, who so revere science on such issues as tobacco, stem cells, evolution, and global warming, are so willing to abandon science and give in to fantasy on the subject of 9/11.”17
However, in spite of the confidence with which these critics have made their charges, the truth is the complete opposite: It is the official account of the destruction of the World Trade Center, which has been endorsed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), that is profoundly unscientific (partly because it ignores a massive amount of evidence pointing to use of explosives18), and it is precisely for this reason that the 9/11 Truth Movement has come up with an alternative explanation – namely, that the WTC buildings were brought down in the procedure known as “controlled demolition.”
II* Miracles Implied by NIST’s Explanation of the WTC’s Destruction
The main reason why NIST’s theory of the destruction of the World Trade Center is profoundly unscientific is that it cannot be accepted without endorsing miracles, in the sense of violations of fundamental principles of physics and chemistry. I will demonstrate this point in terms of nine miracles implied by NIST’s accounts of the destruction of Building 7 of the World Trade Center (WTC 7) and the Twin Towers (WTC 1 and 2).
1. The Fire-Induced Collapse of WTC 7: An Apparent Miracle
WTC 7 was a 47-story building that, although it was not hit by a plane, came down at 5:21 PM that day. Unlike the collapse of the Twin Towers, the collapse of this building was not publicized. The 9/11 Commission Report, for example, did not even mention it.19 Many people have, accordingly, never heard of this building’s collapse. A Zogby poll in 2006, for example, found that 43 percent of the American people were still unaware that a third WTC building had collapsed, and even though NIST’s report on its collapse appeared in 2008, many people today still do not know that this building also came down.20 For the purposes of the present essay, in any case, the main point is that, insofar as people profess belief in the official account of this building’s collapse as articulated by NIST, they imply an acceptance of several miracles.
I begin with a fact about WTC 7’s collapse that at least appears to entail a miracle: that it was (according to the official account) the first steel-frame high-rise building in the known universe to be brought down solely by fire. The Twin Towers were hit by airliners, so the official account could attribute their collapses to the airplane impacts as well as to the ensuing fires. But WTC 7 was not hit by a plane, so its collapse apparently had to be attributed to fire alone.
The unprecedented nature of a fire-induced collapse of a steel-frame high-rise building was expressed a couple of months after 9/11 by New York Times reporter James Glanz. Calling the collapse of WTC 7 “a mystery,” Glanz reported that “experts said no building like it, a modern, steel-reinforced high-rise, had ever collapsed because of an uncontrolled fire.” Glanz also quoted a structural engineer as saying: “[W]ithin the structural engineering community, [WTC 7] is considered to be much more important to understand [than the Twin Towers],” because engineers had no answer to the question, “why did 7 come down?”21
The mystery was not lessened in 2002 when FEMA issued the first official report on this building’s collapse. Saying that its “best hypothesis” was that flaming debris from the collapse of the North Tower had ignited diesel fuel stored in the building, resulting in large, steel-weakening fires that made the building collapse, FEMA admitted that this hypothesis had “only a low probability of occurrence”22 (although Alexander Cockburn years later, as we saw above, would declare this report to be “more than adequate”).
This cautionary statement by FEMA did not, however, prevent defenders of the official account from claiming that WTC 7’s collapse was not really very mysterious after all. In a 2006 book, Popular Mechanics told its readers what they could probably expect to find in the report on this building to be put out by NIST – which had taken over from FEMA the responsibility for issuing the official reports on the Twin Towers and WTC 7. Citing NIST’s “current working hypothesis,” Popular Mechanics said that WTC 7’s diesel fuel had probably fed the fires “for up to seven hours.”23
Also, using NIST’s then-current thinking in order to claim that “WTC 7 was far more compromised by falling debris than the FEMA report indicated,” Popular Mechanics argued that critics could not reject the official account on the grounds that it would make WTC 7 the first steel-frame high-rise to have failed “because of fire alone,” because, Popular Mechanics claimed, the causes of WTC 7’s collapse were analogous to the causes of the collapses of WTC 1 and WTC 2: “A combination of physical damage from falling debris [analogous to the damage caused in the Twin Towers by the airplane impacts] and prolonged exposure to the resulting [diesel-fuel-fed] fires [analogous to the jet-fuel-fed fires in the Twin Towers].”24
Popular Mechanics called this twofold explanation a “conclusion” that had been reached by “hundreds of experts from academia and private industry, as well as the government.” This claim evidently impressed many people, including Chris Hayes and Matthew Rothschild, both of whom said that Popular Mechanics had disproved the claims of the 9/11 Truth Movement. Rothschild, repeating Popular Mechanics’ twofold explanation, wrote:
“Building 7 . . . is a favorite of the conspiracy theorists, since the planes did not strike this structure. But the building did sustain damage from the debris of the Twin Towers. ‘On about a third of the face to the center and to the bottom – approximately ten stories – about 25 percent of the depth of the building was scooped out,’ Shyam Sunder, the lead investigator for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, told Popular Mechanics. What’s more, the fire in the building lasted for about eight hours, in part because there were fuel tanks in the basement and on some of the floors.”25
Hayes, saying that “Popular Mechanics assembled a team of engineers, physicists, flight experts and the like to critically examine some of the Truth Movement’s most common claims,” reported that these experts “found them almost entirely without merit.” This counter-claim by Popular Mechanics evidently settled the matter for Hayes.26
Also, although Terry Allen did not mention Popular Mechanics, her article was apparently dependent on it. Assuring her readers that she had found it “relatively easy” to undermine the “facts” employed by the 9/11 Truth Movement, she wrote:
“Many conspiracists offer the collapse of WTC Building 7 as the strongest evidence for the kind of controlled demolition that would prove a plot. Although not hit by planes, it was damaged by debris, and suffered fires eventually fueled by up to 42,000 gallons of diesel fuel stored near ground level.”27
Like Rothschild, therefore, she gave the same twofold explanation for WTC 7’s collapse that had been provided by Popular Mechanics.28
However, when NIST finally issued its WTC 7 report in 2008, it did not affirm either element in the twofold explanation that had been proffered by Popular Mechanics. With regard to the first element, NIST said: “[F]uel oil fires did not play a role in the collapse of WTC 7.”29 With regard to the second element, NIST said: “Other than initiating the fires in WTC 7, the damage from the debris from WTC 1 [the North Tower] had little effect on initiating the collapse of WTC 7.”30
This second point means that, contrary to what Popular Mechanics had claimed it would say, NIST actually asserted that WTC 7 was brought down by fire, at least primarily. In NIST’s words, the collapse of WTC 7 was “the first known instance of the total collapse of a [steel-frame] tall building primarily due to fires.”31
One ambiguity needs clearing up: Although in these just-quoted statements, NIST seemed to indicate that the debris damage had a “little effect” on initiating the collapse, so that this collapse was only primarily (rather than entirely) due to fire, NIST generally treated fire as the sole cause: Besides repeatedly speaking of a “fire-induced” collapse,32 Also, in a press release announcing its Draft for Public Comment in August 2008, NIST called the collapse of WTC 7 “the first known instance of fire causing the total collapse of a tall building.” This press release, moreover, quoted lead investigator Shyam Sunder as saying: “Our study found that the fires in WTC 7 . . . caused an extraordinary event.”33 The brief version of NIST’s final report said: “Even without the structural damage, WTC 7 would have collapsed from fires having the same characteristics as those experienced on September 11, 2001.”34 The long version said: “WTC 7 sustained damage to its exterior as a result of falling debris from the collapse of WTC 1, but this damage was found to have no effect on the collapse initiating event.”35
It is not wrong, therefore, to say that NIST portrayed WTC 7 as the first (and thus far only) steel-frame high-rise building to have come down because of fire alone. NIST said, in other words, precisely what Popular Mechanics, knowing that claims about unprecedented physical events are deeply suspect, had assured people it would not say.
In doing so, moreover, NIST contradicted both parts of Popular Mechanics’ explanation for WTC 7’s collapse, which, according to Rothschild and Allen, had provided the basis for discounting the 9/11 Truth Movement’s claims about this collapse. To review: Rothschild said that the official account was credible, contrary to the Truth Movement’s claims, because “the building did sustain damage from the debris of the Twin Towers” and the “fire in the building lasted for about eight hours,” due to the “fuel tanks in the basement and on some of the floors.” Allen likewise said the official account was believable because, although WTC 7 was not hit by a plane, “it was damaged by debris, and suffered fires eventually fueled by up to 42,000 gallons of diesel fuel stored near ground level.”36
But then, when NIST later denied that either the debris-damage or the diesel fuel played a role in the collapse of WTC 7, Rothschild and Allen did not retract their prior assurances. It seems that they, in effect, simply said – like Gilda Radner on Saturday Night Live in the 1970s – “Never mind.” Their attitude seemed to be, in other words, that whatever the government says, that is what they will believe. Whatever kind of journalism this is, it is certainly not truth-seeking journalism.
In any case, NIST’s claim that WTC 7 suffered an unprecedented, fire-induced collapse is made even more problematic by the fact that the fires in this building were relatively unimpressive, compared with fires in some other steel-frame high-rises. In 1991, a huge fire in Philadelphia’s One Meridian Plaza lasted for 18 hours and gutted eight of the building’s 38 floors. In Caracas in 2004, a fire in a 50-story building raged for 17 hours, completely gutting the building’s top 20 floors. In neither case, however, did the building, or even a single floor, collapse.37
In WTC 7, by contrast, there were long-lasting fires on only six of the building’s 47 floors, according to NIST, and by “long-lasting,” NIST meant only that they lasted up to seven hours.38 It would be exceedingly strange, therefore, if fire had produced a total collapse of this building. The claim becomes even stranger when one discovers that NIST had no evidence that the fires on any of the floors lasted for much over three hours.39
Accordingly, besides undermining the confident explanations of WTC 7’s collapse offered by Popular Mechanics, NIST’s conclusion about this building – that it was the first steel-frame high-rise building ever to be brought down by fire – appears to constitute a rather remarkable miracle-claim.
2. WTC 7’s Collapse: A Perfect Imitation of an Implosion
More clearly miraculous, given the official account, was the precise way in which WTC 7 collapsed: symmetrically (straight down, with an almost perfectly horizontal roofline), into its own footprint. In order for this symmetrical collapse to occur, all the (vertical) steel columns supporting the building had to fail simultaneously. There were 82 of these columns, so the fire theory of WTC 7’s collapse entails that the fires in this building caused all 82 of these columns to fail at the same instant.
Even if otherwise possible, such a symmetrical failure would have been essentially impossible even if the building had been entirely engulfed by fire, so that all the floors would have been evenly covered with fire. As it was, however, there were fires on only a few floors, and these fires never covered an entire floor at the same time. The official account implies, therefore, that a very asymmetrical pattern of fires produced an entirely symmetrical collapse. If that is not a genuine miracle, it will do until one comes along.
Another problem is the fact that, even if a symmetrical, total collapse could be caused by an asymmetrical pattern of fires, a fire theory could not explain the sudden onset of WTC 7’s collapse. Popular Mechanics, which is unreliable on every aspect of 9/11 (as I showed in my 2007 book, Debunking 9/11 Debunking40), apparently misled Chris Hayes on this point by suggesting otherwise. Attempting to illustrate his claim that Popular Mechanics had shown the core ideas of the 9/11 Truth Movement to be “almost entirely without merit,” Hayes wrote:
“To pick just one example, steel might not melt at 1,500 degrees [Fahrenheit], the temperature at which jet fuel burns, but it does begin to lose a lot of its strength, enough to cause the support beams to fail.”41
However, even if the fire could have heated the steel up to this temperature in the time available (which would have been impossible42), the fire would have weakened the steel gradually, causing it to start sagging. Videos would, therefore, show deformations in the building before it came down. But they do not. One moment the building was perfectly immobile, and the next moment, as videos show,43 it was accelerating downward in free fall (the significance of free fall will be discussed below). As Australian chemist Frank Legge has observed: “There is no sign of the slow start that would be expected if collapse was caused by the gradual softening of the steel.”44
Because of these two features of the collapse, anyone knowing anything about such things can tell, simply by seeing a video of WTC 7’s collapse, that it was brought down in the procedure known as “controlled demolition.” For example, Daniel Hofnung, an engineer in Paris, has written:
“In the years after [the] 9/11 events, I thought that all I read in professional reviews and French newspapers was true. The first time I understood that it was impossible was when I saw a film about the collapse of WTC 7.”45
Kansas City civil engineer Chester Gearhart wrote:
“I have watched the construction of many large buildings and also have personally witnessed 5 controlled demolitions in Kansas City. When I saw the towers fall on 9/11, I knew something was wrong and my first instinct was that it was impossible. When I saw building 7 fall, I knew it was a controlled demolition.”46
Jack Keller, emeritus professor of engineering at Utah State University (who had been named by Scientific American as one of the world’s leaders in using science and technology to benefit society), wrote simply of WTC 7’s collapse: “Obviously it was the result of controlled demolition.”47
In revealing the collapse of WTC 7 to be an example of controlled demolition, moreover, the videos show it to be the type of controlled demolition known as “implosion,” in which explosives and/or incendiaries are used to slice the building’s steel support columns so as to cause the building to collapse into its own footprint.
In 2006, for example, a Dutch filmmaker asked Danny Jowenko, the owner of a controlled demolition company in the Netherlands, to comment on a video of the collapse of WTC 7, without telling him what it was. (Jowenko had been unaware that a third building had collapsed in New York on 9/11.) After viewing the video, Jowenko said: “They simply blew up columns, and the rest caved in afterwards. . . . This is controlled demolition.” When asked if he was certain, he replied: “Absolutely, it’s been imploded. This was a hired job. A team of experts did this.”48
Moreover, the reason to implode a building, rather than simply causing it to fall over sideways, is to avoid damaging nearby buildings, and engineering an implosion is no mean feat. An implosion, in the words of a controlled demolition website, is “by far the trickiest type of explosive project,” which “only a handful of blasting companies in the world . . . possess enough experience . . . to perform.”49 Mark Loizeaux, the president of the afore-mentioned demolition firm, Controlled Demolition, Inc., has explained why: “[T]o bring [a building] down . . . so . . . no other structure is harmed,” the demolition must be “completely planned,” using “the right explosive [and] the right pattern of laying the charges.”50
Would it not be a miracle if a fire-induced collapse, based on scattered fires on a few of WTC 7’s floors, had produced a collapse that perfectly imitated the kind of planned, controlled demolition that can be carried out by only a few companies in the world?
Chris Hayes suggested that the 9/11 Truth Movement, by doubting the government’s account of 9/11, exemplifies a resurgence of the “paranoid style” in American politics. But in accepting the government’s account, as defended by the pseudo-scientific Popular Mechanics, he illustrated the other target of his article, the “credulous style,” which, he pointed out, is generally exemplified by the American media.51 Surely, however, his credulity does not extend to the acceptance of miracles.
3. WTC 7’s Descent in Absolute Free Fall
Even if some readers question whether the two previously discussed features of the collapse of WTC 7, when understood within the framework of NIST’s fire theory, imply miracles, there can be no doubt about a third feature: the now-accepted (albeit generally unpublicized) fact that WTC 7 came down in absolute free fall for over two seconds.
Although members of the 9/11 Truth Movement had long been pointing out that this building descended at the same rate as a free-falling object, or at least virtually so, NIST had long denied this. As late as August 2008, when NIST issued its report on WTC 7 in the form of a Draft for Public Comment, it claimed that the time it took for the upper floors – the only floors that are visible on the videos – to come down “was approximately 40 percent longer than the computed free fall time and was consistent with physical principles.”52
As this statement implied, any assertion that the building did come down in free fall, assuming a non-engineered collapse, would not be consistent with physical principles – meaning basic laws of Newtonian physics. Explaining why not during a “WTC 7 Technical Briefing” on August 26, 2008, NIST’s Shyam Sunder said:
“[A] free fall time would be [the fall time of] an object that has no structural components below it. . . . [T]he . . . time that it took . . . for those 17 floors to disappear [was roughly 40 percent longer than free fall]. And that is not at all unusual, because there was structural resistance that was provided in this particular case. And you had a sequence of structural failures that had to take place. Everything was not instantaneous.”53
In saying this, Sunder was presupposing NIST’s theory that the building was brought down by fire, which, if it could have produced a collapse of any type, could have produced only a progressive collapse.
In response, high-school physics teacher David Chandler, who was allowed to submit a question at this briefing, challenged Sunder’s denial of free fall, stating that Sunder’s “40 percent longer” claim contradicted “a publicly visible, easily measurable quantity.”54 Chandler then placed a video on the Internet showing that, by measuring this publicly visible quantity, anyone understanding elementary physics could see that “for about two and a half seconds. . . , the acceleration of the building is indistinguishable from freefall.”55 (This is, of course, free fall through the air, not through a vacuum.)
In its final report on WTC 7, which came out in November 2008, NIST – rather amazingly – admitted free fall. Dividing the building’s descent into three stages, NIST described the second phase as “a freefall descent over approximately eight stories at gravitational acceleration for approximately 2.25 s[econds].”56 NIST thereby accepted Chandler’s case – except for maintaining that the building was in absolute free fall for only 2.25, not 2.5, seconds (a trivial difference). NIST thereby affirmed a miracle, meaning a violation of one or more laws of physics.
Why this would be a miracle was explained by Chandler, who said: “Free fall can only be achieved if there is zero resistance to the motion.”57 In other words, the upper portion of Building 7 could have come down in free fall only if something had suddenly removed all the steel and concrete in the lower part of the building, which would have otherwise provided resistance (to make a considerable understatement). If everything had not been removed and the upper floors had come down in free fall anyway, even if for only a fraction of a second, this would have been a miracle – meaning a violation of physical principles. Explaining one of the physical principles involved, Chandler said:
“Anything at an elevated height has gravitational potential energy. If it falls, and none of the energy is used for other things along the way, all of that energy is converted into kinetic energy – the energy of motion, and we call it ‘free fall.’ If any of the energy is used for other purposes, there will be less kinetic energy, so the fall will be slower. In the case of a falling building, the only way it can go into free fall is if an external force removes the supporting structure. None of the gravitational potential energy of the building is available for this purpose, or it would slow the fall of the building.”58
That was what Sunder himself had explained, on NIST’s behalf, the previous August, saying that a free-falling object would be one “that has no structural components below it” to offer resistance. But NIST then in November, while still under Sunder’s leadership and still defending its fire theory of WTC 7’s collapse, agreed that, as an empirical fact, free fall happened. For a period of 2.25 seconds, NIST admitted, the descent of WTC 7 was characterized by “gravitational acceleration (free fall).”59
Besides pointing out that the free fall descent of WTC 7 implied that the building had been professionally demolished, Chandler observed that this conclusion is reinforced by two features of the collapse mentioned above:
“[P]articularly striking is the suddenness of onset of free fall. Acceleration doesn’t build up gradually. . . . The building went from full support to zero support, instantly. . . . One moment, the building is holding; the next moment it lets go and is in complete free fall. . . . The onset of free fall was not only sudden; it extended across the whole width of the building. . . . The fact that the roof stayed level shows the building was in free fall across the entire width. The collapse we see cannot be due to a column failure, or a few column failures, or a sequence of column failures. All 24 interior columns and 58 perimeter columns had to have been removed . . . simultaneously, within a small fraction of a second.”60
For its part, NIST, knowing that it had affirmed a miracle by agreeing that WTC 7 had entered into free fall, no longer claimed that its analysis was consistent with the laws of physics. Back in its August draft, in which it was still claiming that the collapse occurred 40 percent slower than free fall, NIST had said – in a claim made three times – that its analysis was “consistent with physical principles.”61 In the final report, however, every instance of this phrase was removed. NIST thereby almost explicitly admitted that its report on WTC 7, by affirming absolute free fall while continuing to deny that either incendiaries or explosives had been employed, is not consistent with basic principles of physics.
Accordingly, now that it is established that WTC 7 came down in absolute free fall for over two seconds, one cannot accept the official theory, according to which this building was not professionally demolished, without implying that at least one miracle happened on 9/11.
George Monbiot, as we saw, described members of this movement as “morons” who “believe that [the Bush regime] is capable of magic.” Unless Monbiot, upon becoming aware of NIST’s admission of free fall, changes his stance, he will imply that al-Qaeda is capable of magic.
Matthew Rothschild said he was “amazed” at how many people hold the “profoundly irrational and unscientific” belief that “Building 7 . . . came down by planted explosives.” Given the fact that progressive members of the 9/11 Truth Movement “so revere science on such issues as tobacco, stem cells, evolution, and global warming,” Rothschild continued, it is “more than passing strange that [they] are so willing to abandon science and give in to fantasy on the subject of 9/11.”
NIST’s report on WTC 7, however, provided the final proof that the 9/11 Truth Movement had been right all along – that those progressives who credulously accept the Bush-Cheney administration’s explanation for WTC 7’s collapse are the ones who “abandon science and give in to fantasy on the subject of 9/11.”
4. The Twin Towers: Descending in Virtual Free Fall
Miracles are implied not only by the official account of WTC 7’s collapse but also by the official account of the destruction of the Twin Towers. According to this account, the North Tower (WTC 1) and the South Tower (WTC 2) came down because of three and only three causes: (i) the airplane impacts, which caused structural damage; (ii) the ensuing fires, which were initially fed and spread by jet fuel from the planes; and (iii) gravity. NIST’s negative claim here is that neither explosives nor incendiaries helped bring the buildings down.
One of the miracles implicit in this account is that, although each building had 287 steel support columns – 240 perimeter columns and 47 massive core columns – and although neither explosives nor incendiaries were used to destroy these columns, each building came down, as NIST itself put it, “essentially in free fall.”62 How would that have been possible?
According to NIST, each airliner took out several perimeter and core columns at its area of impact and also created huge fires, which began weakening the steel. After a period of time (56 minutes for the South Tower, 102 minutes for the North Tower), “the massive top section of [each] building at and above the fire and impact floors” fell down on the lower section, which “could not resist the tremendous energy released by [the top section’s] downward movement.”63 Accordingly, NIST’s report said:
“Since the stories below the level of collapse initiation provided little resistance to the tremendous energy released by the falling building mass, the building section above came down essentially in free fall, as seen in videos.”64
Trying to describe more fully its theory of how this happened, NIST wrote:
“The potential energy released by the downward movement of the large building mass far exceeded the capacity of the intact structure below to absorb that energy through energy of deformation. . . . As the stories below sequentially failed, the falling mass increased, further increasing the demand on the floors below, which were unable to arrest the moving mass. In other words, the momentum [of the top stories] falling on the supporting structure below . . . so greatly exceeded the strength capacity of the structure below that [the latter] was unable to stop or even to slow the falling mass.”65
Even before we think about any specific law of physics violated by this account (assuming that no explosives or incendiaries were used to remove the steel columns), we can see intuitively that this explanation implies a miracle: As NIST critic Jim Hoffman has pointed out, it “requires us to believe that the massive steel frames of the [lower structure of the] towers provided no more resistance to falling rubble than [would] air.”66
As to why physics rules out NIST’s account, William Rice, who has both practiced and taught structural engineering, pointed out that NIST’s account “violates Newton’s Law of Conservation of Momentum,” which requires that, “as the stationary inertia of each floor is overcome by being hit,” the speed of descent must decrease.67 A paper by physicists and engineers published in an engineering journal agreed, stating:
“NIST evidently neglects a fundamental law of physics in glibly treating the remarkable ‘free fall’ collapse of each Tower, namely, the Law of Conservation of Momentum. This law of physics means that the hundreds of thousands of tons of material in the way must slow the upper part of the building because of its mass.”68
A letter to NIST signed by physicist Steven Jones, chemist Kevin Ryan, and architect Richard Gage, among others, made a similar point, saying:
“Basic principles of engineering (for example, the conservation of momentum principle) would dictate that the undamaged steel structure below the collapse initiation zone would, at the very least, resist and slow the downward movement of the stories above. There is, indeed, a good chance that the structural strength of the steelwork below would arrest the downward movement of the stories above.”69
NIST, as we saw above, claimed that the lower portion would not retard – let alone arrest – the downward movement of the upper part, because the “tremendous energy” of the upper part’s downward momentum would be irresistible. Let us examine this claim with regard to the North Tower. It was struck at the 95th floor, so the upper portion consisted of only 16 floors. Also, the structure at this height had relatively little weight to bear, compared with the structure lower down, so the steel columns in the upper part, above the area of impact, were much thinner than those in the lower part. This means that the upper 16 floors probably constituted less than 15 percent of the building’s total weight. Also, the top portion would have fallen only a story or two before hitting the lower portion, so it would not have acquired much velocity before striking the lower portion. For these reasons, the top portion would have not had much momentum, so its energy would not have been so “tremendous,” it would seem, as to be irresistible by the lower part, with its millions of pounds of interconnected steel.
This conclusion, based on a purely commonsense analysis, was confirmed by a technical analysis of the North Tower collapse by mechanical engineer Gordon Ross. Far from failing to retard the downward movement of the building’s upper portion, his analysis showed, the lower portion would have quickly and completely stopped the top portion’s descent. Having made the necessary calculations (which NIST failed to do), Ross concluded that the “vertical movement of the falling section would [have been] arrested . . . within 0.02 seconds after impact. A collapse driven only by gravity would not continue to progress beyond that point.”70
If Ross’s calculations are even close to accurate, then NIST’s account – according to which the Twin Towers came down “essentially in free fall,” even though they were not professionally demolished – implied two enormous miracles (one for each building).
Another element in NIST’s account, to be sure, is the claim that the fires in the buildings weakened the steel, so that it provided less resistance than normal. “[W]hen bare steel reaches temperatures of 1,000 degrees Celsius,” NIST wrote, “it softens and its strength reduces to roughly 10 percent of its room temperature value.”71 NIST thereby, without actually saying it, implied that the steel columns had been heated up to the point where they lost 90 percent of their strength.
NIST was in this way able to mislead some nonscientific journalists into thinking that fire could have caused the Twin Towers to collapse. Alexander Cockburn, stating that the collapses did not require preplaced explosives, said: “High grade steel can bend disastrously under extreme heat.”72 Chris Hayes, stating that the 9/11 Truth Movement’s claims about the Twin Towers are without merit, wrote (in a passage quoted earlier): “[S]teel might not melt at 1,500 degrees (Fahrenheit], the temperature at which jet fuel burns, but it does begin to lose a lot of its strength, enough to cause the support beams to fail.”73
However, the idea that steel heated up by fire could account for the collapses of the Twin Towers is wrong for at least two reasons. In the first place, even if the steel had indeed lost 90 percent of its strength, it would still have offered some resistance, because the law of conservation of momentum would not have taken a holiday. So a collapse “essentially in free fall” would have been impossible.
In the second place, there is no empirical basis for claiming that either tower’s steel had lost any strength, let alone 90 percent of it. On the one hand, as MIT engineering professor Thomas Eagar has pointed out, structural steel only “begins to soften around 425°C [797°F].”74 On the other hand, scientific studies on 16 perimeter columns carried out by NIST scientists found that “only three [of these perimeter] columns had evidence that the steel reached temperatures above 250